John Howard's End: Environment > Economy?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 11/24/2007 04:27:00 PM
It has finally come to pass: John Howard, Australia's second-longest serving prime minister with four election victories under his belt, has failed to secure a fifth term in office. I've long been following this story [1, 2, 3, 4, 5] because it may augur the shape of things to come. John Howard has delivered economic growth to Australia throughout his lengthy stay in office. However, he too has been rather nonchalant about environmental matters. The prolonged drought in the Land Down Under has done much to raise questions in the minds of the electorate as to whether Howard is still the man in an era of heightened environmental concern. Just as Bill Clinton once said "It's the economy, stupid," what we may have here is "It's the environment, stupid" as environmental concerns trump economic ones--at least in the case of Australia where folks have become used to economic growth. The Financial Times had yet another informative piece on the enviro-political angle:
Fuelled by a seven-year drought that is regarded as the country’s worst in a century, the environment has for the first time in Australian history overtaken the economy in terms of political importance.

Three opinion polls this year found the environment rated higher than the economy, with the latest showing it was considered a “very important” issue by 69 per cent of respondents, versus the economy on 67 per cent.

The shift has caused Mr Howard and Kevin Rudd, the Labor opposition leader who heavily outguns the government in the polls, to deploy two of the country’s highest-profile politicians into the battle.

In one corner is Labor’s Peter Garrett, promoted last year to shadow environment spokesman. A law graduate and former lead singer with campaigning rock band ­Midnight Oil, which topped the Australian charts in the 1980s and 1990s, Mr Garrett is the former president of the Australian Conservation Foundation. [Outgoing Treasurer Peter Costello memorably poked fun at Garrett, but who's laughing now?]

Not to be outdone, Mr Howard responded by putting Malcolm Turnbull into the environment port­folio. The Rhodes scholar, journalist and former Goldman Sachs executive rose to prominence in the 1980s when, as a barrister, he beat Margaret Thatcher’s British government while defending former MI5 agent-turned-novelist Peter Wright in the Spy Catcher trial...

Labor, on the other hand, has said it will ratify Kyoto and has won plaudits for a mandatory renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020, an urban water programme and a Barrier Reef protection proposal.

John Connor, the chief executive of the Climate Institute, a research group, believes the [outgoing] coalition have missed their opportunity to take a leadership role on the ­environment.

“They have left their run too late,” he said, adding that conservative leaders in others parts of the world, including David Cameron, the UK opposition leader, Arnold Schwarzenegger, California’s governor, and ­Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, had refused to let left-leaning parties claim the environmental high ground.

Mr Turnbull, who is also tipped as a possible successor to Mr Howard as leader of the Liberal party, claims the government was not a late convert to the environmental cause. “We have a good reputation and John Howard has been prescient on water,” he said on Friday while on the campaign trail.

Mr Turnbull, like Mr Howard, is fighting for political survival in his own seat. He is neck-and-neck against Labor’s George Newhouse in the now marginal seat of Wentworth, which the Liberal party and its predecessors have held since Australia’s Federation in 1901.

Also like Mr Howard, he is coming under attack on his environmental record by a successful businessman. Geoff Cousins, a former high-profile advertising executive, has launched a campaign against him in Wentworth over his decision to back a controversial pulp mill in Tasmania. But Labor also supports the mill, a fact that could undermine Mr ­Garrett’s green credentials.

Mr McHarg this week elected to stand down from Colliers International, a real estate company, in order to wage his political campaign. Mr Howard and his team may have that choice made for them when Australia votes next Saturday.

Worse yet for Howard, he's now been turfed out of his own parliamentary seat. An ignominious end indeed for the Iraq invasion supporter and pseudo "friend of the earth." Growth lubbers beware if environmental matters begin to take greater precedence over economic ones in more developed countries:

Kevin Rudd’s Labor party swept to power in Australia’s federal election on Saturday delivering a stunning defeat to the 11-year rein of prime minister John Howard and his ruling centre-right coalition.

Mr Howard, one of the world’s longest-serving Western leaders and an important ally of US president George W Bush over the war in Iraq, faced a humiliating end to his 33 year political career after conceding he was likely to lose his own federal seat of Bennelong, becoming Australia’s first sitting prime minister to be voted out of parliament in nearly 80 years.

Mr Rudd, a 50-year old Mandarin-speaking diplomat elected to lead Labor less than 12 months ago, is an economic conservative who has promised to ratify the Kyoto protocol on climate change in a move that will leave the US isolated, to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq and to restore workers' bargaining power.

Labor was on course to win more than 85 of the 150 seats in Australia’s House of Representatives, recording one of the biggest swings against an Australian government since World War II. Mr Rudd’s success was assured after a landslide in his home state of Queensland after Labor picked up an extra 10 seats, with a number electorates recording swings of close to 15 per cent.

It is only the third time since WWII that an opposition Labor party has won government in Australia. However, Mr Rudd becomes Australia’s 26th prime minister at a sensitive time. Although the country is coming into its 17th year of expansion, the economy is suffering from inflationary pressures and interest rates are on the rise.

Rudd now faces a series of environmental challenges left over from the Howard years. Australia's water shortage has resulted in all sort of interesting stories like a topless carwash in Brisbane and fatal episodes of water rage. Make no mistake, however: environmental challenges are no laughing matter.